Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

Confessions of a Recovered Insight Junky

What insights reveal about what’s eating us.

Our answers speak volumes about our questions. Our insights speak volumes about what we were searching for. Our insights expose what I’ll call our Outsights, the yearnings that drive us outward in search of insights. For example:

He’s had a major breakthrough in therapy, insight that his problems all started with his parents. Now he finally understands what’s wrong with him. His insight is about his parents. His outsight is his anxious quest for an explanation of what’s wrong with him.

She had a major breakthrough in her spiritual practice, insight that through meditation on the oneness and impermanence of life, she can transcend all anxiety, aggression and competition. The insight is about transcendence. The outsight is her search for an all-encompassing way to escape anxiety, aggression and competition.

They found the one great teacher, the master they now rely on for all answers. To any question, now all they ask is “What would the master do?” The insight is that the master has all the answers. The outsight is a quest for a one-stop-shopping solution to life’s confusion. 

They found the one guiding political principle that eliminates all doubt about how the world should run. Their insight is the principle. Their outsight is a quest to eliminate all doubt about how the world should run. 

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When we find insights, we often celebrate them by sharing them with others, proselytizing gleefully about our important discoveries. Sharing them makes us proud, but our friends can be a little embarrassed for us, intuiting that the insight says more about our hungers than we notice. 

We feel at the top of our game; but our friends can see our game’s soft underbelly, the pain that inspires our quest for a winning solution. We aim to look exceptionally endowed with important new answers but end up looking exceptionally hungry for those answers.

We recognize that drug-junkies are often self-medicating. So are insight junkies, jonesing for anything that stops the pain. When we discover insights, we feel like discerning wine-connoisseurs having found the perfect Cabernet, yet we may come across more like winos clambering indiscriminately for a fix.

Embarassing though it is, we’d do well to meditate not just on our insights but our hunger for them. There’s as much to learn from our search as from what we find on it. Besides, it’s safer to know our own underbellies. The hungry shall soon be eaten. When we’re hungry for answers we become easy marks taken in by con artists, therapists, gurus, guides who are often self-medicating too, drunk not just on their insights but on the affirmation they get from their devotees’ adulations.

I had eight years of four-times-a-week, on-the-couch Freudian psychoanalysis, most of it focused on how my childhood explained my exceptional problems. I’m grateful and think I got a lot out of it, but mostly by getting over it.

My problems aren’t exceptional. They’re everyone’s problems to one degree or another. The challenges I faced, are the challenges we all face sooner or later, in whatever order we’re exposed to them.

When I stopped hungering to explain what was exceptionally wrong with me, I began to recover from my insight junky addiction. 

I still love a good insight when one comes, but I don’t need insights like I used to. I haven’t been to a therapist, or weekend workshop in decades. I attribute a lot of it to the therapy and workshops I’ve had, though far less to the particular theories they promoted and espoused.

One’s all-consuming quest for insights can consume itself. Often we just run out of time, money and energy for more questing—man’s search for just enough meaning to get by. 

Sometimes though, when we’ve been through the cycle of insight-hunger and satiation often enough we eventually turn our attention toward the hunger itself, the outsight drivers that make us feel so exceptionally hungry for insights in the first place.

If we can generalize from our personal hunger to the hungers we all feel, we come to meditate less on ourselves and more on the human condition. Then we can get with the program of living within the human condition, less in need of a self-medicating escape from it.

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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